Friday, January 29, 2010

Sweet & Sour Tofu

It sounds so simple... but making stir fry has taken me YEARS to figure out.

The first challenge is the tofu. I've learned, with much trial and error over the past 10 years, that the keys to good fried tofu are 1) thorough pressing, 2) high heat and 3) patience. Start by pressing your tofu (preferably some kind of fresh stuff. I use Surata from here in Eugene). I cut the block in half, place the halves side by side on a towel, cover with a towel, and place a stack of plates on top (any heavy thing will do). Then leave it for about 20-30 minutes before cutting into pieces for frying.

When you're ready to fry it, make sure you have your oil (a few tablespoons) and pan nice and hot before you add the tofu. (I use a mixture of canola and sesame oil usually, and have a well-seasoned wok.) When you add the chunks, give it a nice stir to coat with the oil, and then let it fry. Stir occasionally, but not too much. You want it to get a nice golden coating, and that won't happen if you stir too much or the temperature is too low. Oh, and I like to add some Szechwan seasoning to it as it fries. Yum!

For a stir fry, I usually make the tofu first, then set aside on a plate with paper towels and add it back in later.

Now for the vegetables. You want to prepare all of these ahead of time (like when your tofu is pressing). Also a good idea: separate the veggies into different bowls based on the amount of time they will take to cook. For example, put your onions and peppers and any other "hard" veggies together as they will go in first and cook longest. Put your beans, pea pods, broccoli, or other veggies that will take less time together for dumping in later.

Last night, I used an onion, a red bell pepper, green bell pepper, ginger, broccoli, and canned pineapple in the stir fry. In the summer, I'd use more fresh stuff like pea pods, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers (in addition to onions). So it's really all about what you like. For sweet and sour, though, I always use pineapple!

So, stir fry up your veggies till they are done to your liking, turn the heat down to low or medium-low, then add the tofu back in and then the sauce till it's heated through.

Sauce. To be honest, I usually use store-bought sauce and have no particular brand loyalty, though I try to get something with ingredients I recognize. Last night, though, I made a sauce and it turned out pretty good. I combined a small can of tomato sauce, white wine and apple cider vinegar, a combo of brown sugar, white sugar, honey, and molasses (I only had a little of each, so why not?), soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and salt. To taste. It was like a tangy BBQ sauce, but it worked.

I cooked some basmati rice at the same time all this was going on and we had ourselves a delicious, and mostly healthy meal!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hot wings

I don't usually like chicken wings. The proportion of skin and bone to meat is too skewed for my liking. However, I recently have had the same wing recipe twice and really enjoyed them. So I'll share my experience with you.

Thanks to Miss Single USA, and her friend Matt for this recipe, "Matt's Hot Chicken Wings".

2 lbs. Chicken wings and/or drumsticks
One stick butter
One jar of Louisiana Hot Sauce
One jar Smuckers Apricot Jam
(I'm sure you could experiment with the type of hot sauce and jam)

Rinse wings in cold water, then add to a big pot of water (to cover) and bring to a boil on the stove. Turn the heat down to medium and boil for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt together in a sauce pan the butter, hot sauce, and apricot jam. Keep warm on low.

Dredge each piece of chicken in the sauce and place in a baking or casserole pan. Then brush some sauce over the top, reserving some for later.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about an hour - flipping the chicken pieces over occasionally and adding more sauce.

At the end, the sauce is all thick and carmelized and the chicken literally falls off the bone. Delicious!

The sauce is sweet, but spicy. I've helped make this twice. The first time we had cooked greens with it. The second time we had cheese grits and a salad. Both were great accompaniments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Taste it in your mind

My friend Jeremy is a FANTASTIC cook. He almost always amazes me when he brings something to a potluck or has us over for dinner. This weekend he made an appetizer of fried tofu with a spicy peanut sauce, a broth-based potato-leek soup, and brined pork chops with sauteed apples. WOW!

As he was cooking, I asked him if, when he cooked, he sort of visualized the tastes and how they would come together. As I expected, I got an enthusiastic yes. I figured - since that's how I cook. (not that I can claim to be as good as he is!)

Jeremy rarely cooks with a recipe. And while I do use them, I'm rarely faithful 100%, and I often do just throw stuff together based on how I think it will taste. To do that well, you need to know how a lot of things taste, and together. So, in my opinion, to be a good cook, one needs to eat and enjoy a lot of different things - to gain the taste palette necessary for later.

So, in lieu of an actual recipe today, there's just food for thought.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sausage Hoagies a la Rachel Ray

I don't watch cable food shows. Except when I'm working out at the gym and it happens to be on. Odd combo, that. But I do know who Rachel Ray is. When my mom got me her "2,4,6,8 Great Meals for Couples or Crowds" book, I was skeptical. But we've found several great recipes in it. Tonight, we tried a favorite we haven't had in a while: "Uptown Sweet and Spicy Sausage Hoagies". This is a recipe I'm pretty faithful to, which serves 6 for real.

What you need:
1 pound sweet Italian sausages (in sausage form, not ground)
1 pound hot Italian sausages (ditto above)
olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 mild green peppers (calls for cubanelles, but whatever), seeded and thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
fresh thyme, leaves from 6 sprigs, chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper
6 crusty submarine sandwich rolls
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 15-oz can sliced beets, drained and cut into sticks (I use chopped up pickled beets)
8 oz. ricotta cheese
4 cups arugula, washed, stemmed and coarsely chopped (or just use baby arugula and don't bother with stemming and chopping)

What you do:
Preheat the broiler.

Place the sausages in a large nonstick skillet and piere the casings with a fork. Add some water to the pan and a drizzle of oil. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove the cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, until water is almost cooked off and the casings crisp a bit.

Heat a second large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, red onions, peppers, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes.

Drain the sausages and slice them on an angle into 2-inch pieces. Return to the skillet on medium-high with a drizzle of oil and brown up the cut sides.

Split the sub rolls, place on cookie sheet, and put under the broiler to brown them.

Add vinegar, chicken stock and beets to the peppers and onions and cook until the beets are heated through and the liquid has almost cooked away. Add sausage to the veggies and toss it up.

Pile the sausages and veggies on the rolls and top with ricotta and arugula.
It's messy, but enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lamb chops and salad

Yesterday's dinner was delicious!

A note about our lamb: For the past 3 or 4 years we have bought a half a lamb (processed into various cuts) from a friend's sister who raises them on a small hobby farm a few hours south of us. So they are totally sustainably and organically raised. And delicious. The chops are small, so you generally need to eat two of them, with a side dish, for a meal. Which we did, with our visiting friend Miss Single USA.

I must give credit to Miss Single for finding the lamb marinade recipe in Amy Sedaris' book "I like you," which was sitting out on our coffee table.

Lamp Chop Marinade (from Amy Sedaris):
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper
4 lamb chops
Combine all ingredients and pour over the chops. Marinate for 3 hours. Then broil.

I used a lot more rosemary - because I love it and have a few large bushes right outside the back door. I also used 2 cloves of garlic (mashed in a garlic press) and 6 small chops. I actually didn't measure anything else, just dumped it all in a large ziplock and stuck it in the fridge for about 2 hours.

To cook the chops, I put them in a glass casserole and cooked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees in the oven. Then I switched it to broil and did 5 minutes per side. This resulted in amazingly moist and flavorful chops with plenty of juice in the pan, but they were well done (but not over done). Broiling 5 minutes per side is probably enough. Or maybe just 5 minutes in the oven before hand.

I tend to cook lamb chops a different way every time. I definitely liked this way a lot, and will try it again.

Our local newspaper, The Register-Guard, has a food section every Wednesday that often has good ideas and/or recipes. Last week there was a salad recipe I tried with the chops, and had again tonight. It was that good. The below is the way I made it, not exactly like the recipe in the paper.

Apple Salad with Hearts of Romaine and Toasted Hazelnuts:
- Hearts of Romaine leaves, in bite-sized pieces (tonight I mixed these with arugula, which was great!)
- A nice flavorful apple (I used a Granny Smith); cored and diced up
- Crumbled blue cheese (I used Rogue Creamery's Oregonzola)
- Coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
- Balsamic Vinaigrette with Sweet Honey Mustard (see recipe below)

Toss the diced apples in with a bit of the dressing while you prepare the rest. Then throw them in the salad, add a bit more dressing and toss it all up.

Balsamic Vinaigrette with Sweet Honey Mustard:
- 1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar (I only had 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, and another 1/4 cup of a raspberry champagne vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. sweet honey mustard
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 2/3 cup canola oil
Put it in a container and whisk it all together. Makes a cup of dressing.

Finally, we had a very nice bottle of wine with this dinner. On Friday, Miss Single and I stopped by the Vista Hills tasting room in the Dundee Hills in the northern Willamette Valley. We came home with a few bottles of their 2007 Marylhurst Pinot Noir, which is delicious. It stood up well to the lamb and the salad, tasting especially good with the blue cheese. I don't think you can get this wine outside of the vineyard, but I recommend it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Page 505 of my ancient (1953!) version of The Joy of Cooking gets a lot of use. In fact, when I open the short, fat hardcover, it pretty much falls open there. It's the page for biscuits, which I make at least once a month on a Saturday or Sunday. The past two times, I've made the buttermilk variety, which tweeks the recipe slightly to add more butter and a little sugar.

I know you can get perfectly good biscuits out of a tube these days, but homemade biscuits are just so much better, and really not very hard. To eat them, we usually just split them open while they're warm and put homemade blackberry jam and honey on them. Last week, I made up some cheesy scrambled eggs and made a sandwich out of one of my biscuits. That was tasty too.

Here's what you need:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2-6 tablespoons butter (best at room temperature, so set it out ahead of time)
2/3-3/4 cup milk
rolling pin
baking sheet
drinking glass
fork or pastry cutter

Here's what you do:
- Pre-heat the oven to 425 F.
- Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. (you can add a little sugar if you like them a little sweet).
- Cut the butter into little chunks and add to the flour mixture. Use a fork (or a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. Just keep working at it until there aren't any big chunks of butter and it's all evenly distributed.
- Pour in the milk and give it a quick stir so it all pulls together.
- Use your hands to shape the dough together but don't handle it too much.
- Turn dough out onto your countertop, dusted with a little flour. Roll out the dough with the rolling pin. (I like my biscuits pretty thick, but the thinner you roll, the more biscuits you'll get)
- Use the glass to take biscuit-sized plugs out of the dough and put them on a greased baking sheet. Re-roll the rest of the dough and cut out more biscuits until you can't get anymore. Keep in mind that the more you handle the dough, the tougher your biscuits will be - so be careful.
- Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly browned.
Enjoy with whatever toppings you want!

Monday, January 4, 2010


Many mornings, I make smoothies for breakfast. They mostly hold me over till lunch, and they are more or less good for me.

Here's how I do it (scaled for 1 person):
Add to a blender
- one banana
- two big dollops of plain lowfat yogurt (I use Nancy's, which is local and delicious)
- a small scoop of a protein powder (I ususally have some non-GMO, non-flavored soy protein)
- about a half cup of frozen sliced peaches and 4-6 frozen whole strawberries (I use Willamette Valley Fruit Co. for the fruit, it's local)
- about a half to one cup of orange juice.

Blend it up. I start slow and add speed. Sometimes you need to stop and scrape down the sides with a spoon.

Drink up!

You may need to experiment to get the thickness you desire. And of course you can use different fruits. I've found, though, that blueberries don't blend up that well, and that blackberries have too many seeds for drinking comfortably.

Just another food blog...

Hi there, world. This is my first post on this blog. The idea of this blog is to share what I cook, bake, and sometimes drink. Mostly I wanted to do this because I don't keep a record of all the yummy things I make anywhere else, and I sometimes have a hard time remembering how I did something when I want to replicate it. So, this will serve as much as a reminder to me as an experience for you. But I do hope any readers out there get some ideas for their own cooking!

In general, I like to make things from scratch, and I like to use fresh organic ingredients as much as I can. I have a large garden but not enough time to do everything I'd like to with it. And I'm lucky to live in a place with abundant fresh organic produce, and naturally-raised meats.

I do use recipes. But I often adapt them into my own thing too. And I often just throw stuff together for a meal. It usually turns out pretty good - or at least that's what my husband and friends tell me.

I'll try to post a few times a week, but I know it will be less than that sometimes.
So, welcome to my way around the kitchen!